South Xtra: South Park savoring 'perfect' title run

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL / WPIAL CLASS AAA CHAMPIONSHIP

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About an hour after he and some of his closest friends won the biggest game of their careers, South Park's Nick Yobbi was still having difficulty putting into words the significance of what had just occurred.

"I couldn't even tell you," Yobbi said. "I'm so hyped up. It was just nuts. It was the experience of a lifetime."

An experience these South Park Eagles will never forget.

South Park made school history and earned a piece of WPIAL history late Tuesday night by defeating Hopewell, 4-3, in nine innings in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game at Consol Energy Park in Washington County.

It was South Park's first WPIAL baseball title. The Eagles (24-0) also became just the fifth team to win a WPIAL championship with an unbeaten record since the league moved to more than one class in 1979.

"It's incredible," South Park coach Steve Bucci said.

Bucci's bunch sure had to fight for it. It was the longest WPIAL championship game since Beaver Falls defeated Springdale in 13 innings in 1975. Tuesday's game lasted nearly three and a half hours.

South Park didn't play a one-run game during the regular season, but the Eagles survived their second one-run postseason contest in a row by scoring the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

Yobbi singled to lead off the inning. Hopewell pitcher Stefan Mrkonja got South Park's next two batters to ground out and strikeout, but then he began having major control issues. Mrkonja walked Randy Dobnak and Greg Pantuso to load the bases. Mrkonja then reached a full count on Adam Thompson, who took the next pitch for ball four, scoring Yobbi.

"Mrkonja seemed like he started tiring a little bit," Bucci said. "The ball started to take off on him a little bit. I don't know if that was just fatigue or we finally made him work enough. There were some borderline pitches. It could have gone either way."

Dobnak retired Hopewell in order in the bottom of the inning, allowing South Park to hold on for the victory.

It was the end of a terrific performance by Dobnak, who played a big role in the win offensively and on the mound. Dobnak went 3 for 3 with a two-run home run and picked up the pitching win after tossing 22/3 scoreless innings of relief.

Yobbi was the starting pitcher and allowed three runs in the first two innings, but he hung tough and worked himself out of a dangerous jam that might have been the turning point of the game. Hopewell loaded the bases with no outs in the third, but Yobbi got a fly out to shallow right field and then induced an inning-ending double play.

"One hit and it's 5-0," Bucci said. "I don't know if anyone could overcome this Hopewell team with a five-run deficit."

South Park trailed by three runs and had been shut out through three innings, but Yobbi said he was confident his team's offense would come alive.

"We figured it was going to come around sometime. It's been there the whole season. It was just a matter of time before we put things together," said Yobbi, who earlier in the day was named Class AAA player of the year by the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association.

In the fourth, Shane Fetsko got South Park on the board with an RBI single, and Dobnak followed with a homer to left field.

"He crushed that," Bucci said. "We felt that when we got back to 3-3, it was a new ballgame."

Hopewell had multiple runners on base in the sixth, seventh and eighth, but South Park kept working itself out of tough spots. The Vikings loaded the bases with one out in the seventh, but Dobnak struck out the next two hitters.

"That's what this game is all about," Bucci said. "It's about taking advantage of opportunities. They had some huge opportunities they didn't capitalize on."

South Park, on the other hand, capitalized on its huge opportunity in the ninth, and it earned the Eagles the distinction of being called "Undefeated WPIAL Champs."

Next up for South Park: Making a run at its first PIAA title.

"After [Tuesday], we're all hyped up about it," Yobbi said. "We just want that ring."

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